Turning 40: Show Me the Money

I turn 40 in the year 2000. Now, I can look at that in one of two ways: Either I take it as a cause for great celebration (that my life and the human race both will be at historic watersheds at the same time), or as a cause for mondo depression. (What if the world comes to an end the moment I blow out the bonfire of candles on my birthday cake?)But the tenor of my end-of-the-century celebration is most likely to hinge on the answer to the following questions: What have I done to deserve my spot on this planet, and when all is said and done, what is my life worth? Bummer.Assigning value to things has always been a dangerous and subjective business. Even the greatest thinkers of our time have grappled with sizing up one thing against another.For example:"Man is the measure of all things." -- Protagoras"You are not worth the dust which the rude wind blows in your face." -- Shakespeare"For the measure you give, will be the measure you get back." -- Jesus"We are not worthy." -- Wayne (of Wayne's World)Personally, I like a sliding-scale approach to measuring up. When my professional life stalls in the middle of the Ladder of Material Ascension, I find myself slinking into my spiritual crawl space. Like a cross between Stuart Smiley and Jesse Jackson, I begin repeating mantras:"I have a lovely family. I'm a good person. I make a decent pot roast. I AM SOMEBODY!"When the home fires wane to dying embers, I take refuge in my professional accomplishments. That way, it's okay for "nature" to reclaim the built environment (my house) -- just as long as all the periodicals in the office are finally cross-referenced by title and subject.But now, at the apex of my adulthood, the question of my worth looms large. It's times like these that I think, "Isn't O.J. Simpson lucky?" Well, I know he's had a few problems lately (like being photographed in really ugly shoes), but at least he's had a group of top-notch experts spending all of their time and energy affirming that he's a valuable member of our society -- to the tune of $25 million.Perhaps, I thought, a decent forensic accountant could put a value on my contributions to this life. I found a cyber-forensic accountant who, through a free introductory offer, assessed my future earning power:"What have you done to ever make anyone want your autograph?" I'm the maker of toasted bread balls and Kool-Aid, not Martha Stewart. Now everybody's serving the slices of white bread slapped with Jiffy smooth peanut butter, squished into round balls, lightly oven toasted and served with chilled cherry Kool-Aid. When my book comes out about how she stole that and thousands of other towel-folding ideas from me, the world will want to know my story. That makes my future worth $2 million right there. Or at least $19.95 (for the hard cover)."Have you ever killed anyone?"Hmmm. Let me think. Plenty of people have died laughing at my hair lately, but. É Naw. Just put a big goose egg in that column. "Have you ever posed nude?"YES! YES! YES!I'm RICH!!!! Better get on the horn and have my folks send the good shots to me. Especially the one where all I have on is a birthday hat. "Do you have a patent pending; a dying, wealthy relative who likes you; a tendency to slip and fall in front of managers in grocery stores; or at least one marketable talent that doesn't involve spitting? If the answer is 'yes' to any of these questions, you could be worth a little moola. Send $300 and a completed questionnaire for your final assessment."Hey, if I had $300 to throw away, I wouldn't be spending my time wondering what I'm worth. So, instead of seeking a professional to solve my question of self-worth, I tossed my life questions into the universe, and waited for an answer to hit me right between the eyes. And wouldn't you know it, my answer came to me, not from cyberspace, but in snail mail: a letter from my mother.I opened it to find a handmade Valentine's coupon book. The first coupon was for being an "excellent mom with two children," valued at $99 million. For my adventures in writing, a $5 million coupon. Next, a coupon for being a "hard worker at home and on the job," value $2 million.She also enclosed $5 cash. She wrote, "Get an ice cream sundae. I'll bank the millions for you."Now, I'm sure that even the Goldmans' top-notch forensic accountants couldn't have deigned a better bottom line for me. Thanks to Mom, I've learned a valuable lesson. The first question to ask when judging the value of a person -- or for that matter, a pet, a memory or an experience -- is: "What are the values of the person making the judgment?"That's a revealation that could serve us all well into the next millennium. Take it from one wealthy woman.

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